Stair Stepper vs. Treadmill: Which One Is for You?

You’ll commonly find stair steppers and treadmills in any gym you go to. But have you ever wondered what the difference between the two is?

It’s true that both machines offer a similar type of exercise, but each one has distinct advantages and disadvantages.

In this article, we’ll go through an extensive comparison between the two machines, outlining their features and how they fare against each other in several aspects.

Let’s get started!

Stair Stepper vs. Treadmill

In order to better understand the difference between each machine, we need to quickly lay out what they are in principle. This will help you incorporate them more efficiently into your workout routine.

Stair Stepper

A stair stepper allows its user to stand on two alternating platforms with each foot. There’s an equal level of resistance against each platform, and the user must start applying force against the top platform to push it down. This is exactly like climbing a flight of stairs.

Some models include a belt that is folded into the platforms. The folding belt will create a more realistic stair-climbing effect as it circulates with the alternating platforms.


Using a stair stepper in your workout routine can help you build your quads, glutes, in addition to other leg muscles. They’re also considered low-impact exercises, meaning they don’t consume your energy as treadmills do.

This can be essential for people suffering from leg injuries, ultimately making it an attractive cross-training option with treadmill exercise.

If you’re dealing with knee injuries, however, experts advise you to limit your time on the stair stepper, as it can place a lot of stress on your knee joints.


  • Low-impact exercise
  • Great for building leg muscles
  • Great for developing your glutes


  • Not recommended with knee injuries


We all know what treadmills are. They’re essentially machines that mimic how a person would naturally walk or run.

Treadmills can be convenient in places where there aren’t a lot of running distances, especially closed spaces. If you own a treadmill, you can effectively run miles on end at the same spot.

Most treadmills now come with an incline feature, adding an extra layer of challenge to your fitness routine.


Treadmills are popular because they provide us with a number of benefits. For starters, they’re known for burning a lot of calories with the least effort. They’re also versatile in terms of workout exercises.

You can increase or decrease speed on the spot, adjust the incline to add weight on your leg muscles, thereby accommodating several training exercises of varying fitness levels.


  • High variability
  • Highest caloric burn
  • Essential for stamina
  • Works for tight spaces


  • High-impact exercise
  • Purely catabolic

Which is Better?

There’s no straight answer as to which machine offers superior benefits. It all boils down to what you use them for.

For Burning Calories

A study released by The Journal of the American Medical Association in 1996 compared different workout equipment to see how many calories they can burn in one hour.

It was concluded that using a treadmill with a “high intensity” workload burned around 700 calories every hour. Stair steppers, on the other hand, came in at a close second, with 625 calories burned per hour.

Yes, treadmills are better at purely burning calories, but you should keep in mind that they’ll exhaust your energy faster. This may negatively affect your performance in the subsequent workouts. Stair steppers will still burn a respectable amount of calories, but they won’t consume as much energy.

For Building Muscles

Both machines will primarily work on the major muscle groups in the lower body. This includes your hamstrings, calves, quadriceps, and glutes.

Treadmills won’t substantially increase the muscle mass of your lower body. The mechanism of using treadmills doesn’t apply as much force on your hamstrings as stair steppers, but they’re better at building core strength.

Stair steppers allow for greater resistance to be placed on your quadriceps and glutes. This is because you’re applying your whole body weight on each leg to push the platform down. That’s why they’re much more capable of building muscle than treadmills.

For Weight Loss

Weight loss can be quickly achieved using treadmills. The natural act of running is known to burn fat and decrease weight, especially if you get yourself used to running at higher speeds.

As we discussed earlier, a treadmill will burn more calories, and therefore present a quicker route to losing weight. Stair steppers come in second at weight loss, but you do get the extra toned calves and hamstrings in the process.

For Toning

Steppers are known for their higher ability to tone and build muscles, particularly in the hips, legs, and rear.

Treadmills, on the other hand, apply forward momentum on the legs. Therefore, they aren’t as efficient at toning as steppers are.

For Stamina

Steppers work by utilizing your body weight as a form of resistance on your legs. It’s great for toning and building muscle, as we mentioned earlier, but it’s not conducive to boosting your stamina.

Treadmills are much more effective in improving stamina. You can find specialized high-intensity endurance programs or programs that mimic natural high endurance training, like a 10-mile marathon program, for example. They work on strengthening your core muscles, thereby elevating your endurance levels.


Cost is an important factor to consider if you’re planning on buying one of these machines. The cost of the unit is different from the cost of maintenance, which we’ll get to shortly.

Stair Stepper

Steppers are usually cheaper than treadmills. You can get a mini stepper with 2 steps for roughly $50. Of course, you can find premium machines that go up to a few thousand dollars.

If you’re on a budget, a non-motorized stepper with basic features won’t hurt your wallet. If you want a motorized unit with a console that displays real-time stats, you should see the price increase in an exponential manner.


Treadmills can also start relatively cheap, although not cheaper than the basic stepper. You’ll find that the most rudimentary treadmill starts at around $200.

We don’t recommend non-motorized treadmills, however, because they don’t allow you to take full advantage of running on it. You should be willing to spend over a thousand bucks on a motorized treadmill to get something that really packs a punch.


The maintenance of your unit depends greatly on how much you’ve spent on it. Cheap machines won’t last a long time and will require routine check-ups. Premium units, on the other hand, should come with an extended warranty and high-quality parts to keep it running for years on end.

Stair Stepper

If you buy a mini stair stepper for home, this will be overall the cheapest option in both buying and maintenance costs. They won’t give you a satisfactory workout exercise, but they’ll require little to no maintenance.

If you invest in an expensive motorized stepper, you’ll have to occasionally check it for any loud noises, motor interruptions, or even rust. They can be susceptible to wear and tear over time. You’ll also need to occasionally maintain and lubricate these components.


The good thing about treadmills is that they almost always come with extended warranties. You can get a mid-segment treadmill with a 5-year warranty for the majority of the parts and a lifetime warranty for the motor.

Full maintenance is recommended every 3 months of use. The manufacturer should offer spare parts for replacement, most commonly the walking belt.

You should also lubricate the treadmill frequently, realign the walking belt, and maintain belt tension.

Assembly and Placement

The assembly and location of the machine can be critical if you want to put it in your house.

Stair Stepper

Buying a mini stepper is a convenient choice if you don’t have much room in your house. The assembly will take minutes and it can be placed under your bed or behind your wardrobe. It’ll also not create a lot of noise and can be transferred easily from one place to another.

A motorized stepper, on the other hand, will act in a way similar to a treadmill. But they can still be fairly quick to assemble.

The bad news is, you’ll need to have plenty of room available for the unit, and it’ll produce some noise when you’re using it. Portability isn’t there, either.


A treadmill is usually hard to assemble. Its complicated procedure is what makes a lot of manufacturers offer house delivery and assembly.

Thinking about the location of the treadmill is essential because you’ll have a hard time moving it around. You should find a definite place for it to stay. Don’t forget that you need a fair amount of clearance behind the treadmill to keep yourself safe from any injury.

Finally, treadmills can get loud, especially if you plan to have some intensive exercises. Make sure you’re not pissing off your neighbors.

Recommended Stair Stepper to Buy

The best stair stepper that we recommend purchasing is the Sunny Health & Fitness Twist Stepper.

We found it extremely difficult to recommend any other stepper, simply because of how it maintains a portable and compact body, without sacrificing performance.

This unit has a center console that displays all sorts of stats like steps/minute, burned calories, time spent per session, and total step count.

For a small stepper like this one, we weren’t expecting much durability out of it. However, this unit is made out of heavy steel that can support up to 250 lbs of load. It also has large pedals that can make you feel confident during intense exercises.

What we liked the most about this model was how it focuses on inward stepping as opposed to the normal vertical stepping. This enables you to add some hip rotation, which works on stimulating your inner and outer thighs as well as your core muscles.

Overall, it’s an incredibly cheap, yet powerful machine. This stepper can seriously transform your home workout routine!

Recommended Treadmill to Buy

The best treadmill we recommend is, without a doubt, the NordicTrack T 6.5 Si Treadmill.

This unit will set you back a few thousand dollars, but it’s one of the best treadmills you can buy right now!

It has a lightweight form factor and features you can only find on much more expensive machines. It’s also foldable, allowing you the freedom of portability if you’d like to move it around frequently.

The frame is sturdily built with steel on the sides and powder-coated rails made of chrome. The deck itself is made from a formidable wiggle-proof composite material that feels exceptionally secure while running.

Its 2.6 CHP motor is capable of self-cooling, so you can effectively run for hours without overheating the motor. It responds in a matter of seconds and doesn’t experience any hiccups under heavy load.

What we liked the most was perhaps the quality of the running belt. It’s made from a textured and anti-slip material that reduces vibrations and helps keep you stabilized at all times. We also didn’t hear that thumping sound you hear when running over cheaper models.

Finally, this treadmill has FlexSelect cushioning, which is ideal to protect your joints from high levels of impact from all the running. There are 4 dampeners beneath the deck and a feature within the console to turn the cushioning on and off.

Overall, it’s a fairly priced model that incorporates some of the attractive high-end features on the market.

Wrapping Up

It’s apparent that both machines can be incorporated into the same workout routine. They offer similar cardio exercises that improve general fitness, burn a whole lot of calories, and contribute to maintaining an athletic form.

If you’re training to run a marathon and looking to increase your stamina, a treadmill should be an attractive choice. If you’re looking to increase your lower body strength, build some muscles on your legs and glutes, and get your body toned, a stair stepper might win you over.

Remember, always consult your physician before starting a weight loss program. Stop exercising once you feel any pain, and make sure you maintain a healthy nutritious diet alongside your workout routine.

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